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The Center Square

17 state AGs sue Biden admin. for allowing foreign farmworkers to unionize | Kansas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Tom Joyce | contributor – 2024-06-12 08:00:00

(The Center Square) – A group of 17 state attorneys general, led by Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration this week over a rule that allows temporary farm workers in the country on H-2A visas the power to unionize.

Federal law bans American farm workers from collective bargaining. 

“Once again, Joe Biden is putting America last,” Kobach said in a statement. “He's giving political benefits to foreign workers while American workers struggle in Biden's horrible economy. I stand with American workers.”

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Filed on June 10 in the Southern District Court of Georgia, the complaint argues that the new rule from the U.S. Department of Labor is a rewrite of the National Labor Relations Act and that only Congress has the power to amend the NLRA.

Kobach contends that the new rule creates a situation where many temporary, foreign migrant farmworkers would have the power to unionize, unlike millions of American farmworkers — treating the foreign workers better than the Americans. 

The lawsuit says that the U.S. Department of Labor thinks the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) allows it to make this new rule. Yet, the state attorneys general think differently. They contend that it doesn't allow the department to provide H-2A visa workers with better working conditions than their American counterparts. 

“The final rule goes above and beyond to provide… rights to H-2A workers. These are rights American farmworkers explicitly do not have under federal law,” the complaint reads. “…The final rule is simply a backdoor so that the agency can achieve a policy goal that requires legislation that it cannot convince Congress to pass.”

The lawsuit consists of two private agricultural organizations, plus attorneys general from Kansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

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One can read the court filing here.

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The Center Square

Patrick to criminals ambushing, killing officers: ‘the police will hunt you down’ | Texas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-07-11 17:14:00

(The Center Square) – Acting Governor Dan Patrick told criminals if they ambush and kill police officers that the police “will hunt you down” as a manhunt is underway for an alleged murderer of a sheriff's deputy.

Patrick issued the warning at a conference in Houston on Thursday before giving an update on hurricane recovery efforts. Patrick is filling the role as acting governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is on an economic development tour in Asia.

The manhunt in Houston is for the alleged murder of a Harris County Sheriff's Office deputy who was ambushed and shot multiple times Wednesday night.

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Deputy Fernando Esqueda, 28, who'd been with the sheriff's office for five years, was a member of HCSO's Violent Person Task Force responsible for bringing to justice child rapists, homicide suspects, and other violent offenders.

On Wednesday night, deputies received a call about an aggravated assault at a Little Caesars Pizza in northwest Houston after the assailant became upset about his order and allegedly pistol-whipped an employee. HSCO deputies responded with investigators who were already out working a 12-hour shift on post-storm patrols. Although the assailant fled the scene, the employee was able to identify his vehicle make, model, and license plate. Law enforcement officials began a search for the vehicle, which Esqueda found. When he called in the vehicle, he was ambushed. His body was found riddled with bullets, police say.

“Whoever these animals were will be caught, prosecuted, and hopefully a judge or a jury will give them the punishment they deserve,” Patrick said. “In the midst of this storm recovery when so many people are suffering, when our police are working 12- and 16- hour shifts, to think that a bunch of animals go in and pistol whip someone behind the counter of a pizza shop because they didn't get their order right. They go out and apparently set an ambush … and gun down one of our brave heroes in his patrol vehicle will not stand. Will not,” he said, pounding the table.

Patrick warned “criminals in this city, in this county” that they “better be on notice. The police will hunt you down.”

At a press briefing on Tuesday, with Houston Mayor John Whitmire said the city needed more police “instantly.” Within hours, the head of the Texas Division of Emergency Management reached out to other police departments and reinforcements have already been coming to the city, Patrick said, including an additional 40 state troopers.

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“We'll send more if needed. We will send as many police as is needed to this community, to protect the community, to protect the property, and protect each other. It's just unacceptable,” he said.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez also issued several statements, including a picture of the alleged assailant, calling on the public for help.

In one post he said, “Urgent! Help us locate Ronnie Palmer (10-17-79). Palmer is wanted for an Aggravated Assault that occurred on July 10, 2024, at 15634 Wallisville in East Harris County. He is also a person of interest in the Capital Murder of a Harris County Sheriff's Deputy. If you have any info regarding his whereabouts, contact Houston Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS (8477).”

Patrick later said, “I apologize if I raised my voice too much in the beginning but I am just heartbroken for this officer who was killed and it's hard to move on from that.

“Since I've been lieutenant governor and Greg Abbott's been governor, we've lost over 50 officers in the line of duty. I've been to many of those funerals including in this area and every time we lose one there's a piece of all of us who dies with [the officer] because they're just people like you out there protecting us.”

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Abbott, Patrick and the Texas legislature, including Whitmire when he was a state senator for 40 years, have advanced measures to support the police.

In the last legislative session, Abbott signed several public safety bills into law that received bipartisan support to enhance penalties for some crimes, provide additional support to law enforcement personnel and local communities, The Center Square reported.

This is after the Texas legislature passed “Back the Blue” bills that Abbott signed into law in 2021, which included a measure that now ties municipalities that defund their police departments to losing tax revenue. The measure was passed after the Austin City Council defunded its police in 2020.

The city has still not recovered from the action with fewer police in the field and crime continuing to skyrocket. Abbott surged resources to Austin, including Texas Department of Public Safety officers who are still providing support to the Austin Police Department.

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The Center Square

Fourteen states back Arkansas in lawsuit over LEARNS Act | Iowa

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Kim Jarrett | – 2024-07-10 13:46:00

(The Center Square) – Arkansas is getting help from other states in its defense of an injunction that halted a portion of the LEARNS Act.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky issued a ruling in May that keeps Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva and the Department of Education from enforcing a portion of the law that requires a review of items “that may purposely or otherwise, promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as Critical Race Theory, otherwise known as ‘CRT', that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law or encourage students to discriminate against someone based on the individual's color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law.”

The injunction does not affect an executive order issued by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in January 2023 that bans the teaching of critical race theory in Arkansas schools, but Judge Rudofsky said the executive order and the section in question are similar.

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The state is appealing the ruling. Fourteen other attorneys general, led by Iowa's Brenna Bird, filed an amicus brief supporting Arkansas and questioning the reasoning behind the injunction.

“As a mom, I know how important it is that we create a healthy culture for our kids to learn and grow,” Bird said in a statement. “And most schools and teachers do an amazing job at that. But when education turns into indoctrination, parents have a right to push back.”

The brief, authored by Bird's office, said schools can ban some speech.

“For example, this Court held a school did not violate the First Amendment when it punished students for wearing shirts with the Confederate flag because it created an objectively harmful learning environment,” the attorneys general said in the brief. “This Court explained the shirts ‘subjected' '15 to 20 minority students' to extreme “racial tension from a white majority student and community population sufficient to motivate some to withdraw. Because ‘racial tension can devolve to violence suddenly,' the students created conditions that could “hardly be considered an environment conducive to educational excellence.”

The attorneys general said that ideologies such as CRT “openly encourage discrimination based on race.”

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The brief is also supported by attorneys general in Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

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Legislature to evaluate response to Beryl as millions still without power | Texas

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www.thecentersquare.com – By Bethany Blankley | contributor – 2024-07-10 10:03:00

(The Center Square) – Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the legislature would perform a post-analysis of the response to Hurricane Beryl, including investigating the efforts of the largest energy provider in the Houston region, as millions remain without power.

Patrick is taking on the role of acting governor while Gov. Greg Abbott is in Asia on an economic development tour.

At a conference in County, Patrick discussed the devastation caused by the Category 1 hurricane, including seven people now confirmed dead.

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He also addressed the millions of Texans struggling without power as temperatures surpass 100 degrees.

“It's tough to be in the heat. It's tough not to be able to get food. It's tough not to be able to cook it,” he said.

Reporters asked Patrick if he was happy with the efforts to restore power by CenterPoint, the largest energy utility provider in the Houston region.

“CenterPoint will have to answer for themselves if they were prepared and positioned,” he said. “The state was positioned and prepared. I'll tell you whether I'm satisfied or not when I have a full report of where their crews were when they were asked to come in, and how quickly they get power back.

“Any thought that people were surprised that the storm might come to Houston is shocking to me. I still have my text that I sent on the Fourth of July when the track was Mexico and the Rio Grande. In my text, I said ‘I'm not comfortable with this track, I'm not comfortable with this storm.'”

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Patrick said he signed multiple waivers to allow crews to come into Houston faster and the state had crews available in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Houston.

In response to additional questions, he said, “If they made mistakes, we don't know if they did or not, if they made mistakes beforehand, then that will be addressed by the PUC [Public Utility Commission of Texas], that's their job, and by the state legislature.”

Unlike in previous hurricanes, CenterPoint reportedly didn't have additional workers stationed in Houston before Beryl made landfall.

On Tuesday, the immediate focus was getting power back up as soon as possible, Patrick said. “I'm not looking at what they didn't do, or should have done on Thursday or Friday or Saturday, I'm looking at what they're going to do now and how fast are they going to get their crews out. Because now we're in the lifesaving business.”

“Heat index values are expected to get as high as around 106 degrees, and these values could become dangerous in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl,” the National Weather Service's Houston forecast office said.

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A CenterPoint spokesperson told KHOU 11 News as the storm hit that while it didn't have the crews it requested “staged in Houston, we did have them in nearby locations.”

KHOU 11 News notes that in “separate news conferences and in writing, the company gave three conflicting numbers – 5,300 mutual aid workers, 7,500 and the full 12,000 it requested.”

CenterPoint officials gave additional numbers, according to an analysis by The Center Square. On Sunday, CenterPoint's attorney said it had “started the process to bring in 2,500 additional personnel, taking our total employee and contractor force up to 4,500 to respond to this storm. Our assessment work will start as soon as the storm passes, and we will immediately get to work.”

Also on Sunday, a spokesperson said there were 2,500 mutual assistance crews on standby. “After the assessment phase if we determine more, we will get more crews,” he said, noting that more than 4,000 crews responded to the last flooding event in May.

On Monday, CenterPoint issued a statement saying, “In the first afternoon since the powerful and destructive Hurricane Beryl moved out of its service territory, CenterPoint Energy had mobilized its internal and mutual assistance crews to begin the restoration process to the total 2.265 million customers that lost power during the storm. As of 8 p.m. CT, CenterPoint has restored power to nearly 285,000 customers. Based on current progress with its damage assessment and initial restoration, CenterPoint now expects to have 1 million impacted customers restored by the end of the day on Wednesday, July 10.”

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“While we tracked the projected path, intensity and timing for Hurricane Beryl closely for many days, this storm proved the unpredictability of hurricanes as it delivered a powerful blow across our service territory and impacted a lot of lives,” Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president of CenterPoint Energy, said.

CenterPoint has published a color coded outage and restoration map resource for the Houston area. It also listed how many customers are without power by county, with the majority in Harris County of more than 1.2 million as of Tuesday afternoon.

As of Wednesday morning, CenterPoint said more than 1.3 million customers are affected by a power outage in multiple counties and there are 11,228 active outages. Within the last 24 hours, it says power was restored to more than 617,000 customers and 638 outages were restored.

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